Tue | Oct 27, 2020

UHWI and NovaMed conducting research into COVID-19 pool-testing

Published:Wednesday | October 14, 2020 | 10:30 AM
Founder of NovaMed, Dr David Walcott, pools together samples from a group of patients to perform testing and detection of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Pooled testing is expected to markedly increase the COVID-19 testing capacity of the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) Laboratory – Contributed photo.

The University Hospital of the West Indies (UWHI) in partnership with global healthcare company NovaMed is conducting research into a new testing approach for COVID-19 that may significantly increase Jamaica’s testing capacity.

The approach known as ‘pool-testing’ was developed by experts in Germany and used in testing efforts in that country, Israel and India.

The goal of the local effort, which began in early July, is to drive greater diagnostic output in the country’s COVID-19 response and it is currently being investigated as a research project that could bolster testing output in Jamaica.

“The new testing technique is very similar to a method that is used in laboratories in blood banks whereby blood samples are drawn into a single test-tube to speed screening. Following similar procedure, pooled testing is done using highly sensitive tests to detect existing positive cases in a single test-tube of samples taken from groups of 30 patients. If the group tests positive, the entire samples are retested individually. By retesting samples individually, it is easier to identify which of the collection tripped the test for the pooled sample,’’ explained Medical Chief of Staff at the UHWI, Dr Carl Bruce, in a statement.

“This method of pooling samples works well when there is a low prevalence of cases, meaning more negative results are expected than positive results,” he added.

And Dr Alison Nicholson, head of the department of microbiology at the UHWI, stated that the pooled testing approach works well considering the limited locally available resources.

“Our research into pooled testing has shone light on another way that our institution can increase the output from our laboratory.”

The innovative throughput and cost-effective testing approach for COVID-19 has the potential to significantly reduce costs and increase testing capacity while offering faster turnaround time for results delivery.

Founder of NovaMed, Dr David Walcott, said “NovaMed recognises the importance of testing as a measure to curb the spread of COVID-19, and has been advocating for greater testing efforts in emerging markets. This method could allow UHWI to conduct four times its daily testing capacity and theoretically save in excess of USD $1M over a couple of months using this approach.”

He added, “Testing is key to identifying early and asymptomatic cases to be able to intervene and break the chains of transmission and as a resource-constrained state, we have to be aggressive in understanding our current caseload so we can respond accordingly. The need for testing has increased with the increased caseload and different regions are investigating innovative approaches to bolster testing responses.”

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